You've decided to purchase a home theater audio system, but you don't know whether to buy separate components or a pre-packaged home theater system. A few short years ago you had no choice but to select multiple speakers, a subwoofer, a receiver or amplifier, a DVD player and a bunch of cables, then hope that they were all compatible with one another. With today's best prepackaged home theater systems, such as the Harman Kardon CP 35 7.1- channel system, the manufacturer takes responsibility for providing the performance- and compatibilitymatched components in one (large) carton. Set up can be simpler too, thanks to color-coded wiring for nearly every system connection. Harman Kardon, now part of Harman International, helped to shape the consumer electronics industry, along with Fisher, Marantz, Scott, and Sherwood. Today, Harman International also markets such well-known brands of audio/video components as Audioaccess, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson, and Revel, meaning that Harman Kardon can draw not only upon its own design expertise, but upon a wealth of resources from its sister companies.
The Harman Kardon CP 35 system consists of the firm's AVR 335 multiroom A/V receiver with two remote controls (one for the main home theater, another for a second room), the DVD 31 DVD-Audio/Video player, and a special 7.1-channel loudspeaker system comprised of Harman Kardon’s HKTS 14 5.1-channel speaker/ subwoofer system plus a pair of HKS 4 satellite speakers. Unlike many HTiB (Home Theater in a Box) systems, the CP 35 is essentially a handpicked set of high-performance separate components combined in one convenient, value-priced package; all you need to add is a television. When packed in one large carton the system weighs 135 lbs., so you'll want to bring your SUV or unpack the master carton before loading it in your trunk.
Putting It All Together
The CP 35 system was easy to set up and connect. Setup was made easier because of the color-coded speaker jacks, speaker wires, and component connections on the receiver. Simply match the colors, run the wires and make the connections. Even the digital audio connections between the receiver and DVD player, the component video connections, and the subwoofer have color-coded connectors and cables. Analog audio jacks are not color-coded; however, the receiver comes with three sheets of colorcoded labels to apply to the cables for easy identification. The AVR 335 receiver even has Harman Kardon's EZSet+, an auto setup feature, which automatically adjusts speaker levels, delay times, and crossover frequencies. I elected to postpone performing auto setup until I first listened to the system and made manual speaker adjustments.
My initial impressions of the sound quality of the CP 35 system were positive. The subwoofer placement and level needed adjustment to balance the system, but that's to be expected. After listening to a few of my favorite CDs, I concluded that the system is not flat sounding. In fact there is a noticeable emphasis in the upper midrange, lower treble region. The system did, however, have a lively, energetic quality that was pleasant to listen to, and the emphasis actually enhanced vocals and instrumentals. The high frequencies were not shrill or brittle, just bright. Otherwise, the midrange was open and clean, and highs were clear and articulate. I readjusted the sub level and crossover frequency a few more times and achieved the proper balance of bass, midrange and treble.
At this point I wanted to try the EZSet+ feature to evaluate its effectiveness. EZSet+ is designed to calibrate the system automatically and to provide a balanced sound presentation. The system includes a microphone that plugs into the receiver's multipurpose headphone jack, then checks for correct speaker connections, sets speaker levels and delay times, and subwoofer level and crossover frequency. Progress can be viewed on the onscreen display. Overall, EZSet+ did an effective job of calibrating the system levels and delay times, especially the crossover frequency between the subwoofer and the satellite speakers. Absent from the EZSet+ is a function to equalize the sound for the listening room. Many receivers include room equalization with the auto setup feature, which can noticeably improve the sound of the system, especially in listening rooms that have difficult acoustic qualities, such as walls with highly reflective surfaces. An effective equalizer could also help tame boomy or exaggerated bass response, a common problem. Perhaps an equalizer could have smoothed out the emphasis in the upper midrange.
It was apparent that the EZSet+ did a better set-up job than I did. The system sounded more balanced after EZSet+ performed its automatic calibrations. In Jennifer Warnes' "Somewhere, Somebody" [The Hunter, Private Music] the system imaged well in both stereo and Harman Kardon's Logic7 mode and sounded well-balanced with smooth, though distinct, bass response. Trisha Yearwood's title song from Where Your Road Leads [DTS Entertainment, MCA Records] exhibited solid, deep bass and a broad, extended soundfield in this multichannel DTS music disc.